FIGHT AGAINST CRIME
ISS applauds SAPS arrests of syndicate members targeting LGBTQI community after Cele briefing
Police are making progress in the fight against crime, said Police Minister Bheki Cele in a briefing on Tuesday, citing the arrests of suspects allegedly involved in kidnapping, illegal mining and cash-in-transit heists.
The arrest of members of a syndicate targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community – and linked to over 50 kidnappings – should be applauded, said Lizette Lancaster, Crime Hub manager at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS).
Lancaster’s comments come after Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Tuesday at a briefing in Pretoria that a syndicate had been targeting the LGBTQI community through the dating app, Grindr.
Cele’s briefing focused on policing successes in the fight against crime.
According to Cele, the Crime Prevention and Combating Action Plan, through Operation Shanela, is yielding results in the fight against organised crime.
“Police have broken the back of this particular kidnapping syndicate that has so far been linked to over 50 kidnappings, where ransom demands were being made,” Cele said, referring to the syndicate targeting the LGBTQI community.
Daily Maverick recently reported on one such case involving the kidnapping of an 18-year-old Wits University student who was snatched on 19 September in Johannesburg.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Wits kidnapping – LGBTQ activist raises ‘syndicate’ alarm as police probe dozens of similar cases
According to Gauteng Police Commissioner Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, a multidisciplinary team led by the Anti-Kidnapping Task Team, rescued the student the following day and arrested seven suspects, recovering three knives and the student’s personal items. The student was found tied up and unconscious.
Lancaster said that removing a syndicate from operation can make a significant dent in the number of crimes committed.
The SAPS, she said, should be commended. She added it was also encouraging that Crime Intelligence played a significant role in the investigation of this syndicate.
“These are the types of stories we like because this goes towards restoring trust in police again, especially when it comes to the crimes we fear the most, such as kidnappings, robberies, extortion and so on.”
What is critical now, she said, is that these investigations be prosecuted thoroughly and that good detectives are assigned to ensure that the evidence presented in court is solid enough to lead to convictions. That would be the ultimate success, Lancaster said.
In a separate kidnapping case, Cele said that in the North West in August, an intelligence-driven operation led to the arrest of seven suspects.
The victims, Cele said, were lured to a house to sign documents relating to a solar geyser project worth R17-million. The suspects, who were dressed in police uniforms, were holding the victims hostage and demanding a ransom of R300,000.
According to Cele, information from Crime Intelligence remains central in the take-down of armed gangs. In the past week, police have registered a number of successes, including the arrests of cash-in-transit heist suspects in Hoedspruit, Limpopo, in which four suspects were killed and three others arrested.
The minister quoted from a statement released by Hoedspruit Farmwatch: “The Hoedspruit Farmwatch have a very good relationship with our local police and a large number of specialist SAPS units and we work very well in partnership with them. We are there only to support and strengthen their hands. The police did NOT run away from the scene and were there from the start to way beyond the end. SAPS on all levels did an awesome job and we are very proud to work with them.”
Cele praised Hoedspruit Farmwatch for working closely with the SAPS in bringing this network down.
Among those apprehended was a Mozambican national linked to a police officer’s murder, a slew of automobile hijackings, house and business robberies and fraud cases. One pistol, a rifle and some of the stolen money were seized by police.
The SAPS is also intensifying the crackdown on illicit mining hotspots across South Africa.
On 19 September, police seized R60-million worth of equipment as well as coal worth R12-million at an illegal coal mine in Carolina, Mpumalanga. A mine manager was arrested and the mine owner is being sought.
In Khutsong, Gauteng, the Hawks recently arrested nine suspects for illegal mining and attached 58 properties, 51 vehicles and seven houses worth over R17-million through a preservation order.
Also on 19 September, 867 illegal mine workers were apprehended in the Northern Cape during an intelligence-driven operation in the Namakwa region.
The area, Cele stated, is a hotspot for illegal mining activities and is being closely monitored.
‘Nationalisation of gangs’
The police minister reaffirmed that South African criminals have opted to go toe-to-toe with law enforcement agencies and employees, and therefore police must be on high alert and respond accordingly. Overall, the deaths of police officers are concerning, he said.
Cele also mentioned the recent killing of Gauteng warrant officer Dalmain Morries, attached to the Anti-Gang Unit, who was killed in a drive-by shooting on 24 September while obtaining a statement from a murder witness in Westbury, Johannesburg.
“When it comes to Westbury, there have been serious arrests. The movement of gangsters from other sections of the country causes some flare-ups. We know that people have relocated from the Western Cape to locations like Westbury, from the northern districts of Gqeberha, and from Wentworth in Durban. There is gangster nationalisation, but police are working on it,” Cele said.
ISS researcher Lancaster said gangs operate like companies, expanding their operations into areas where they find opportunities, whether in Westbury or elsewhere.
“We know that gangs are linked and it is not a new phenomenon. That’s why it is so important to investigate them using a methodology that is used to interrupt gang activities and networks, and make sure these networks are dismantled. DM